It’s almost like clockwork on game nights during the Stanley Cup playoffs: Kevin Bieksa will be trending on Twitter by the end of the day.
If she’s not Bieksa, she’s another member of “Hockey Night in Canada” – Kelly Hrody or Jennifer Pottrell. Or maybe all three.
What they’re saying gets the needle moving on social media and it feels like the hot white TV lights get even warmer during playoffs. Perhaps this is because viewers see more panelists than their family members in the hockey cocoon from May to June. Another difference from the regular season is that it can feel like a marathon on TV – the first round often included three games in one night before slowing down to its current pace.
“You get into the rhythm. You get into the groove,” Bexa explained. “When I do Saturday nights – once a week – during the week, there are some weeks where I don’t watch as much hockey as other people probably do. As Thursday/Friday approaches, I do my homework and start paying more attention.
“But when the playoffs start and you work every day, you have a good sense of what’s going on and the players who are playing well every day and what the teams are doing.”
Bieksa became a superstar in the 2020 qualifiers as an Interval Analyst, and now this is his fourth playoff with HNIC. There was no doubt that he possessed a sharp wit and loved to fencing verbally in his playing days for the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks, but these qualities don’t always translate into success on the board or in the broadcast booth. But they traveled with Pixa.
“When I was a broadcaster and he was still a player — especially when he was in Vancouver,” Hrody said, “he would come in ‘after hours’ after the late game (and) I’ll tell everyone, he’s always my favorite guest because he’s so knowledgeable, talkative and has character. But I had no idea one day that he would work in the same industry and that we would be sitting at the same desk.”
Talk to pixa with the athlete In two interviews — the first during the regular season near his home in Orange County — he covered a plethora of topics, including how he keeps balls in the air as a husband, father and dad hockey, television analyst and hockey owner with the West Coast Academy in Southern California. Plus, why hasn’t he officially retired from the NHL?
Bieksa was a multitasker during our first lunch meeting. Conveniently, there was a hockey equipment repair shop in the same complex near the cafe. Bieksa went to take down his son’s shoulder pads to see if they could be fixed, so the conversation started naturally with the hockey gear.
How many pairs of skis did you pass in the season?
I wanted to wear the same clothes until I was yelled at by the coaches. I didn’t like the new skates. I go through about a couple a year. Whereas someone like Cam (Fowler) goes through six pairs. Willie Mitchell, my old partner D, goes through 12 pairs a year. The coaches were like, “Come on. We have a budget here.”
You have completed the circuit. It must be a pleasure to be a hockey dad by now.
It’s fun because I spend a lot of time with my son Cole. We get up at 6 every morning, stop by Starbucks and bring him strawberry açaí and croissants. We pick up another companion on the way and go to the rink. I ski for an hour and a half and then the bus comes and takes him to school. I go home and complete my day.
How did West Coast Academy come to fruition?
We finally decided to buy a home in Orange County. I was in limbo – if I was to go play, I would have to go and live on my own. I weighed my options and they were all with teams out of the East, like Columbus. She was going to be far away I decided, “No, it’s about time.” I wanted to stay around the game.
So, I had a chance with my business partner (Dean Caban) as he wanted to open an academy. We wanted to bring the East Coast model to California because a lot of kids once they hit 13, 14, 15, end up going out east or to Minnesota to middle school. We thought if we could create a good enough model here, it would give them another option. We obviously have some good training experience between us. My partner has been training for 20 years. He has put many players in the NHL. we are at the same age. He is great to work with.
We started the academy with 07s and 06s (players born in 2006 and 2007). We basically had it on the rink all day, and we learned at home. I hired a teacher. I rented a room. So, it was basically a drop-off point for parents in the morning – like a normal school day. We’ve done that for two years.
This year, all of our kids were getting older and were entering high school. We thought it would be irresponsible to keep them in a home school program at the rink. They needed to be social. So, they came to Vermont – one of the best private schools in California – and they just bought a new campus in San Juan Capistrano and they wanted to integrate with us.
They wanted me to coach and coach their high school team and I had all my kids go through ninth grade. This is where this new partnership developed. No need to worry about the educational part, which was a huge stress.
Parents trust you. You are the manager, coach and business owner. I was doing everything and there was a lot of tension. But I used to hang out with my son every day and all his buddies. I think you can ask all the children – I treat them all like my own son. They are all my children. I maintain that camaraderie and am on the ice every day. So, it fills in two blanks for me.
Does it enable you to do things the way you wanted to be treated when you were that age?
That’s a big part of the program – mentorship. It’s hockey. It’s the school. This is a big part for me. A lot of hockey players who do this want to coach the team and then go home after training. They are finished. The first two years, I was in school all day. I was just hovering. I would have conversations with the kids if they needed it.
I was actually going and helping out with their homework too. There were 25 kids and our teacher could only do so much. I don’t just tell them how to behave. I show them. Show them how to open doors.
Now that Ryan Kessler has trained his son in youth hockey in Michigan, have you ever exchanged training tips and ideas?
He knows everything (smiles). He already knows everything. Doesn’t need my advice.
Moving into your broadcasting career, do you approach the job differently now than you did in the beginning?
It has changed a little. Our approach has changed a bit. There isn’t a lot of in-game analysis – more elements of the bigger picture, so it’s bigger than the macro. In the playoffs, it gives you a chance because there are many games. You can choose some details of the game. I enjoy this part a lot, going back to critique the game, the systems, the players, the confrontational gameplay and all the things that I think I do really well. I really didn’t answer your question.
I feel like I went out of the gate, surprised and naive about everything, but I thought it really helped me. I don’t know if this makes sense.
In fact, this is quite logical. I think that was part of your original appeal – that you were a new voice, and you didn’t utter a series of sometimes meaningless cliches.
You can’t get caught up in everyday jargon and what other people are doing. The way you analyze and watch the game keeps it updated. That’s why some weeks I don’t even like to watch hockey, so once I get to the weekend I have a fresh perspective, a clean slate.
One of my colleagues doesn’t read anyone else’s because he doesn’t want to be influenced by what other people say.
This is exactly what I think too. I don’t really watch others on TV. I’d have people in the studio say, “Oh, that guy was last night on the NHL network,” and I’d have no idea what they said or how they were doing. you are right. I don’t want to be affected at all by what they say.
When you first started, did you have any nervousness? Even the people who were in the spotlight were still nervous as they stared into the camera barrel.
that’s the problem. I wasn’t tense. If I’m nervous, or if I’m nervous, I’m not good and I’m not amused. It was the same for hockey, too. If you ask my teammates, I was pretty light before the game. On the ice, I was doing it all. But I was light before the game and in the dressing room.
I don’t want to be nervous. I’m light in the conference room before a pre-production meeting. I laugh. There are times right before that when sometimes you feel a little stressed out. All the time I try to stay free because if I get nervous and reserved, I don’t think I’m entertaining.
It’s tough because you have a pre-production meeting and you’re having conversations with Ron McClain, Elliot (Friedman), Kelly Hrody, and Jennifer Pottrell and it’s an easy conversation. Everyone argues their point of view about different things. Now it’s like, “Do it again on camera.” There is a lot of things going on. …I have always been a student of the game and this is a game for me. I come and watch how Elliot does it and Ron does it. I have tried to capture all the little things.
You mentioned that you were planning to announce your retirement with a special touch. What is the status of the advertisement?
I was going to sign a one day contract and retire as Canuck two years ago, on March 28th. I don’t even know where you stand. We planned on it, but COVID shuts things down on the 15th. I booked my flight and everything.
It was actually my father’s idea. You don’t need to retire – officially. I don’t need to care. My dad used to say, ‘It’s good for the Canucks family. Good for your legacy.’ I do it for my father. I’m supposed to retire as Kanuk (smiles)… Maybe I’ll retire as a duck.
We were talking (with the Canucks) at the start of the season and they kind of knew when we were going to do it and they said they would for sure. Then Jim Benning was fired. Now there is a whole new system. I was there for mental health night, but it wasn’t too late to talk about it. Who do you know? If we get to it next year, that’s fine. I will not go anywhere.
Finally, how much do you miss Brian Burke on the board?
I miss Porky. It feels like it’s been a long time since he hasn’t been with us. So, we’re still talking which is funny. We can tell he’s watching our show because he’ll chime in. We have group texts, and every once in a while, Burkie will chime in, criticize one of us or make fun of one of us. So, I know he’s still watching.
(Image by Kevin Bexa: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)